Bristol - low cost housing centre of excellence

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Feb 11 02:02:18 GMT 2015


In the hoopla, razzamatazz and noise of Green 
Capital year, it may be hard to see the real 
gems, or pick the winners – let alone see an 
integrated picture.  But a picture will 
emerge.  For starters, I thought to flag up the 
cool work being done by Bristol architects 
<>White Design with 
their <>Modcell technology, 
and the way they are working with social housing 
developers (and owners of Hamilton House, one of 
the funkier and not completely dysfunctional 
and Callaghan in bringing Modcell to market – with clever additions.

Carbon in Housing.   Straw is just waste from 
fields, but White Design have done a great job of 
turning round the straw PR disaster created by 
little piggies   While wolves are being 
reintroduced in the UK, no amount of huffing and 
puffing will blow a Modcell home down, and humans 
and piggies living inside will be safe and cosily 
warm.In a green age, the real enemy is bricks, 
and building materials that contain huge amounts 
of embedded energy, in homes with fat carbon 
footprints from the get-go, which require additional insulation.

Carbon Sequestered Homes.  Straw on the other 
hand, is constructed entirely out of naturally 
sequestered carbon, using the best and cheapest 
solar powered carbon capture technology on the 
planet, photosynthesis – which also returns 
oxygen to the atmosphere.  Straw is itself an 
insulator, and doesn’t require additional 
insulation added during building.  Modcell have 
attracted high-tech R&D money to bring this 
excellent traditional building material back to 
market, fully certified and mortgage-ready in a bang-up-to-date modular form.

Successful Bristol Commercial Pilot.  Possibly 
the UK’s first seven modular straw bale homes are 
being built by Connolly and Callaghan in 
Shirehampton right now.  The costs are no higher 
than for homes built with legacy materials, while 
creating homes that are inherently incredibly 
energy efficient.  While the big national 
housebuilders are loathe to innovate, it looks as 
though these homes will sell for a premium – 
folks want to live in low carbon homes that 
breathe, yet which are inherently warm, without using masses of energy

Innovation in Social Housing.  By the time these 
are completed, another development will be well 
underway, on a site for 47 homes also in 
Shirehampton, nearer to Avonmouth.    The Ermine 
Way co-housing ecovillage includes a common 
house, shared food growing areas, an energy 
centre and electric car pool, with part-finished 
shell homes available for completion by 
self-builders.  It will be a community from the 
star, and with homes at super-affordable prices, 
building on co-housing models pioneered at (e.g.) 
in Leeds.

One More Thing.  No More Gypsum 
Wallboard.  There’s more.  When straw is 
compressed and heated to 200ºC, the lignin glue 
melts and re-forms, gluing the mass of straw 
together to create a structural board from 
agricultural waste, which is a perfect 
replacement (and improvement on) gypsum wallboard 
(also know as plasterboard and sheetrock).  While 
gypsum board is energy intensive to manufacture 
and naturally toxic, 
’<>Stramit’, made from 
straw, is stronger, natural, carbon sequestered 
and more.  It’s little short of a revolution.

Environmental and Technological Innovation?  Or 
Social and Economic Revolution?  The financial 
meltdown of the last few years was preceded by a 
construction industry collapse caused by a price 
bubble, and a lack of innovation.  While 
politicians and the construction industry are 
keen to get back to growth-as-usual, the consumer 
appetite for mindless developer built housing 
estates is falling and failing – maintained only 
by artificial scarcity and a dysfunctional 
planning process that guarantees high prices through disposal auctions.

Bristol Leads The Way
What’s happening here is that White Design and 
Connolly and Callaghan are leading with Modcell 
and Stramit, a pair of building materials that 
flip the current building model, combining 
structural strength with insulation, and 
dramatically reducing the carbon cost of newbuild 
homes at no extra financial cost.  This is 
brilliant, and an ecological triumph.  But it may 
be more significant that these homes are being 
built as communities and at a big discount from 
bubble market prices, rather than sold at the 
most inflated prices possible, to nuclear families.

Telling The New Story
This story could be a real feather in the cap for 
Bristol Green Capital if told in the right way 
<>Plastic Buddha 
have created a first short video about these 
first seven 
straw bale homes in Bristol, and it’s likely the 
story will extend and morph as the year passes, 
and the other ideas mentioned above are woven 
in.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make the 
green revolution meaningful to ordinary people 
with super-green homes that cost a third less to 
buy, come in preformed community, and cost 90% less to heat?!

Of course there’s more going on.  For instance 
<>Ecomotive with their 
Snug Homes and others could be woven into a rich 
story, and events promoting Bristol’s laboratory of change.

+44 (0)7786 952037
Twitter: @TonyGosling
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